National Geographic : 1935 Dec
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE Photograph by W. Pfingstl LIGHTNING OFTEN STRIKES AND SHATTERS THE CROSS, STANDING LIKE A GUARDIAN ANGEL ON THE KOFEL'S HIGHEST CRAG After destructive storms, young men of the village struggle up the steep slopes, bearing on their shoulders two heavy pieces of wood-an upright and a crosspiece-and build anew the symbol, which is nearly 20 feet high. The central part of the restaurant shown here was once used as a motion-picture theater, but it was closed because there was so little business. The town has another movie house which runs three days a week. At the right is the liberally frescoed home of Josef Gerold, a cobbler, whose family has lived there for generations. Traveling merchants kept that little hamlet in intimate touch with the outside world, making it a thriving community. But then the Thirty Years' War came, and the specter of a disastrous pestilence began to lay its grip on the settlements surround ing the village at the foot of the Kofel. Wherever fires were seen blazing at the entrance of towns, the wanderer fled in hor ror, lest he also be seized by the Black Death and thrown into the raging pyre. The guards on the outskirts of Oberam mergau must have missed that lone man who, after years of absence from home, yearned to be with his family again. Noth ing could keep him away any longer. Sick, he staggered over the mountains at night through dark forests, and, unseen by others, joined his dear ones. Next morning the excited beating of drums broke the news to the inhabitants that it had come, the dread disease, and Kaspar Schissler, bringer of death, lay dead. The all-powerful Reaper began his work, and 84 persons within a short time fell a prey to him. But their doom incited in the village a spiritual awakening. From death and despair rose the Passion Play, a memorial to those who assembled in the little parish church in 1633, making a solemn vow to produce the drama of the Suffering and Death of Jesus every ten years if the plague should disappear. The old village chronicle tells us that it did, and that the year after, under the guidance of the monks of the Benedictine monastery of near-by Ettal, the villagers for the first time fulfilled their promise. ONWARD DESPITE WARS AND HARDSHIPS From 1670 on, every decade beheld the same religious spectacle, the same fervor and devotion. Only the faces changed. Ever the Passion Play kept growing, through times of interdictions, wars, and hardships of all kinds.